Taking care of oneself varies from person to person. We advocate that farmers and ranchers make an investment in their self-care in these four areas: 1) Sleep 2) Nutrition 3) Exercise 4) Stress Management. All four of these areas impact one another. For instance, how well a person manages his or her stress will impact their ability to sleep. How much exercise a person gets will impact his or her stress level, etc. It’s vitally important that farmers and ranchers invest time and energy into their self-care to help boost their mental and physical resilience. This will help meet the demands of their daily existence.
The sleep patterns of farmers and ranchers are often at the mercy of circumstances around them. The birthing of livestock, calm winds at dawn that allow for spraying, the threat of impending hail storms and many other factors can mandate the farmers forego a “regular” sleep schedule. That being said, strategies to get enough quality sleep are still vitally important for one’s mental and physical well-being.
Strategies for better sleep:
- Keep your bedroom dark (turn off all lights, TV, computers, etc.)
- Consider a humidifier. A room that is slightly humid vs. dry allows us to sleep better
- Keep your room quiet—turn off the TV, stereo, etc. However, white noise, such as a fan or a machine that mimics the sound of rain or ocean waves can help.
- Avoid stimulants, such as nicotine and caffeine, especially in the evening.
- Keep your bedroom cool. We sleep better in a slightly cool environment vs. overheated
- Don’t forget the important role our sense of smell plays in getting a good night’s sleep. The scent of lavender has been shown to decrease blood pressure and heart rate, which can create the opportunity for better sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, one study of brain waves in participants showed that people who sniffed lavender before going to bed had deeper sleep and felt more rested upon wakening.
- When possible, try to mentally “unwind” about one hour prior to going to bed. Do something you find relaxing (instead of, for example, balancing your check book and then immediately go to bed)
With long, hectic days, it can be easy to overlook nutrition and sacrifice good choices for convenience and speed. It can be helpful to keep a well-stocked fridge full of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains so healthy nutrition is always convenient and at your fingertips. Additionally, we are beginning to learn more about the importance of gut health and its impact on our mental health. Don’t forget to stay hydrated. A well-hydrated body is more resilient to stress and sickness. A body that isn’t hydrated isn’t functioning at its peak, and is more prone to stress. Aim for 8-12 cups of fluid each day, with at least 5 of them being water.
The benefits of exercise have been well-documented in helping relieve stress and anxiety. More specifically, exercise helps reduce stress, anxiety and depression by positively altering our brain chemistry. Exercising helps increase endorphins, often associated with “the runner’s high”. Exercise also helps relax us, promotes better sleep, and builds self-confidence. Farmers and ranchers get plenty of exercise, right? Well, most of the time, probably yes. However, it’s important to keep fitness in mind year round. For example, during the long days of harvest we probably don’t have time to hop off the combine and go for a run. Think about your OVERALL daily activity levels. Aim for a total of 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week to boost your moods and help keep stress levels in check. Need some ideas? For your consideration:
- Get a pedometer or smart watch and log your steps. Many health experts recommend aiming for 10,000 steps per day. Take it to the next level and challenge your neighbors to a friendly competition to see who can log the most steps in a month! Organize teams in a neighborhood-wide health challenge! Winners earn bragging rights and a healthy treat!
- Step outside your comfort zone and try a new activity. Sign you and your partner up for dancing lessons through the local adult education system. Check into the activity classes offered at your local college or university and earn college credits while improving your health!
- Don’t have access to the suggestions above? Check with your local schools or community centers to learn about space availability for “open gym” times. Offer to organize a league, such as volleyball, basketball, etc.
- Remember you don’t need fancy or expensive equipment to take care of your health. A good pair of walking shoes and comfortable clothing is all that’s necessary. Some days solitude may be what’s needed. Make it a MINDFUL walk—pay attention to the clouds. SMELL the air. Stop and TOUCH and FEEL the wheat or hay growing alongside the road. FEEL the fresh air nourishing your lungs and oxygenating your blood. Other days we can benefit from having an exercise buddy. Invite your spouse to walk and enjoy some undivided “couple time”, or invite a friend and catch up on the events happening in each other’s lives.
- Remember the importance of stretching. Long hours on the tractor, long hours standing on the cement shop floor, etc., can take heavy toll. Set a timer on your watch and take a 5-minute stretch break every 60-90 minutes. Focus on slow, gentle stretching—no bouncing or jerking and remember to BREATHE! Pay attention to places we often “hold” our stress—upper back and shoulders, low back, and our hamstrings.
Unmanaged stress is severely hazardous to a farmer’s health. According to the Mayo Clinic, stress impacts us in the following ways:
Common effects of stress on your body
- Muscle tension or pain
- Chest pain
- Change in sex drive
- Stomach upset
- Sleep problems
Common effects of stress on your mood
- Lack of motivation or focus
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Irritability or anger
- Sadness or depression
Common effects of stress on your behavior
- Overeating or undereating
- Angry outbursts
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Tobacco use
- Social withdrawal
- Exercising less often
What works for one person to manage their stress may not work for the next. What speaks to YOU to relax and unwind? Need a few new ideas? For your consideration:
- Read a book
- Play a musical instrument
- Create (woodworking, cooking, crafts, painting, photography)
- Volunteer (local youth groups, church activities, senior centers) are often needing extra hands for various projects
- Try a new hobby
- Explore your faith and belief system
- Invite a friend to go fishing
- Plan for a future event you’d enjoy attending (i.e., concert, agricultural exposition, gun show, etc.)
- Bake a batch of cookies to take to neighbors
- Think about what you can control and what you can’t. Being organized and ready for the upcoming tasks at hand can help minimize stress. For example, focusing on repairs and updates in the winter can help make spring work more enjoyable and efficient.
- Try to “let go” of the things you can’t control.
- If something doesn’t work, keep trying!